On the eve of We Are Social's Snapchat 101 event at Social Media Week London, GlobalWebIndex's Felim McGrath shares his thoughts on the recent trend for platforms copying Snapchat's functionality, and creating apps to compete with it. He examines why competitors shouldn't fight Snapchat but should learn from it instead. 

Ever since Evan Spiegel rejected Facebook’s $3billion offer for Snapchat in 2013, Mark Zuckerberg’s social behemoth has produced a steady stream of apps and platforms designed to kill off the increasing threat from the ephemeral app. At the end of 2012 there was Poke, Facebook’s first foray into ephemeral messaging, followed by the similar but more sophisticated Slingshot in 2014. Neither app lasted more than two years. And now comes Lifestage, another attempt by Facebook to build a video/photo sharing app that will appeal to Snapchatters.

It’s easy to see why Facebook is so interested in creating a Snapchat clone. The success of this app, particularly among younger demographics in affluent countries, has been striking. Two out of every three North American 16-24s have a Snapchat account and among this age group in the UK Snapchat is beating out WhatsApp for usage rates. In itself, this success renders Facebook’s attempt to kill off Snapchat a bit futile. Snapchat is here to stay, and offering its users a copycat alternative is unlikely to undermine Spiegel & Co.’s initiatives.

But just because Snapchat has been so successful doesn’t mean that everything it touches turns to gold. In particular, Snapchat's attempts to monetise the platform have encountered setbacks. The app had to abandon attempts to charge for premium lenses and earlier this year it quietly dropped its system for charging users to replay Snaps.

In this context, Instagram’s new ‘Stories’ function is important. Instead of attempting to appropriate the Snapchat USP wholesale, Instagram purposefully, and quite openly, decided to adopt a particularly successful function of Snapchat, one that fits best with the photo-sharing app’s existing offerings. As Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom openly declared, “[Snapchat] deserve all the credit” for devising the idea that Instagram’s new Stories function is based on. Systrom’s views are lessons that every social platform, particularly Facebook, needs to learn: “This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it…You can’t just recreate another product. But you can say ‘what’s really awesome about a format? And does it apply to our network?”

Systrom should know that a large section of his audience is using Snapchat – in fact, GWI’s data shows about half of Instagrammers are Snapchatting – and that attempting to convince these users to wholeheartedly abandon Snapchat is a fool’s errand. In the age of multi-networking, the real competition isn’t about stealing users from other platforms but about convincing users to devote as much of their social time as possible to your app and carry out key activities on your platform. In this context, the success of Snapchat is as much a lesson for the big names in social as it is a threat.

GlobalWebIndex - Sept 16 - Competitors Shouldnt Fight Snapchat, They Should Learn From It

Join We Are Social to explore the future of Snapchat at our 101 Special to learn From The Experts On How To Master The Platform on Friday, September 16. For more information and booking details visit Social Media Week London.